Guide to Marine Weather Forecasts for Boaters in Naples
Our Guide to Marine Weather Forecasts will help you find the weather information you need and help you use it to make informed decisions about your boating activities. Weather is one of the most important boating safety concerns for recreational boaters, but thanks to technology it has never been easier to find the weather information that we need.
Sources of Marine Weather Data
The primary source for weather information in the United States is NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They provide much of the weather information about hurricanes and other major weather events in addition to general weather forecasts for all areas of the country, including marine weather zones.
When it comes to NOAA Marine Weather forecasts, the information that they provide is broken out into zones which are often large areas. For example, the zone covering Naples and Marco Island spans from Chokoloskee (located in the middle of the Everglades) to Bonita Beach just north of Naples. In addition, it extends out 20 nautical miles into the Gulf. When a forecast covers such a large area, the actual conditions can vary which causes some boaters to feel as though the forecast is inaccurate.
You can find the most current NOAA Forecast Information for the Southwest Florida Regions here.
There are other sources of non-governmental weather data from private companies such as PredictWind which we will discuss later in this article. But even with private companies that have their own proprietary weather forecasting models, some of the data from NOAA may still be used as part of the forecasting algorithm.
Understanding Forecast Information
Marine weather forecasts are often given using some abbreviations and perhaps some terminology that you may not be familiar with. So let’s take a sample forecast and break it down:
Typical Marine Forecast:
“E wind around 8 kts becoming WSW in the afternoon. Sunny. Seas around 1 ft. Dominant period 2-3 seconds. Bay and inland waters smooth becoming a light chop.”
How it Reads:
East wind around 8 knots becoming West South West in the afternoon. This means that the wind will be blowing from the East at a speed of 8 knots and will then shift and be blowing out of a West South West direction. Seas around 1 foot means that the average wave height will be approximately 1 foot but this can vary depending on the wind speed. Dominant Period refers to the time it takes from the crest of one wave to the crest of the next. A short dominant period of 2-3 seconds means short, choppy waves. A long dominant period of say 10-12 seconds would mean gentle ocean swells. A light chop would be waves of less than 1 foot.
The Best Marine Weather for Boating
One of the most common questions during our On-The-Water Boat Training Course is how to determine if the weather conditions are right for boating on the Gulf. While that answer depends on the size and type of boat being used, these general guidelines will help you in making that decision.
Winds from the West Equal the Worst
Winds from a Westerly direction, including Northwest and Southwest will create rougher sea conditions on the Gulf as opposed to winds from an Easterly direction. As wind travels across the wide-open waters of the Gulf, wave heights build and are at their greatest when they reach the Western shores of Florida.
Winds from the East Equal the Least
Winds from an Easterly direction, including Northeast and Southeast, will generally provide for calmer seas within a few miles of the Gulf beaches. The reason is that the peninsula of Florida is blocking the wind. This is the same as hiding behind a building in a windy city. But, as you venture farther offshore, the winds from the East will begin to build wave heights.
How Much Is Too Much
Another common question that we hear during our training program is how much wind and waves are acceptable. Again, the answer depends on the type and size of the boat, but the following tables will help you in making that decision. In general, most boaters prefer calm and relaxing times on the water, so our suggestions are based accordingly.
Marine Weather Warnings
For more severe weather forecasts, marine weather warnings may be issued as follows:
Thunderstorm Watches and Warnings
The best way to deal with a thunderstorm is to avoid boating when the likelihood is high. On hot, summer afternoons in South Florida, a thunderstorm is very likely to occur. While boating, you should continuously monitor the weather situation to allow yourself enough time to safely return to the dock. If you are unable to make it back to your home port, you should seek safe harbor elsewhere and try to avoid being on the Gulf where high winds and large waves may briefly develop.
If you are unable to avoid being out in the open Gulf, you should prepare your vessel and passengers for rough weather by putting on life jackets and securing any loose gear and closing hatches. Do not anchor the boat in open water, as large waves may unexpectedly overtake the vessel. Instead, you should keep the motor running and power into the waves, the same as you would handle crossing large boat wakes. Only anchor the vessel if you cannot keep the engine running or you are in a well protected area.
Small Craft Advisories
A Small Craft Advisory may be issued when constant wind speeds range from 18-33 knots and seas of at least 2 feet are forecasted to occur. Any vessel under 65 feet is considered to be a small craft, so if you’re wondering about taking your 28 foot center console out on the Gulf during a small craft advisory, consider yourself advised not to.
Gale Warnings and Storm Warnings
Gale Warnings and Storm Warnings are issued when winds are predicted to be a sustained 34 knots and above with seas of 3 feet and above. If either of these warnings are in effect in your boating area, you should absolutely not be boating on the Gulf.
Note that throughout this post we have focused on if and when you should be boating on the Gulf waters. If you are boating on inland and well protected areas and not exposed to the elements of the Gulf, you may still have a safe and enjoyable experience on a windy day. On inland routes and waterways, waves generally don’t build to greater than 1 foot which would be considered safe for most vessels. However, windy conditions may provide for a more stressful docking experience for those who are new to boating and have less experience or training.
Using PredictWind For Marine Forecasts
There are many apps and technologies available for finding marine weather information, including the very basic WX function on your VHF Radio that we wrote about in our VHF Radio article. But we have found one application in particular to be very accurate and easy to use on both Android and iOS devices. That application is called PredictWind and you can see it in action by watching our tutorial video on our YouTube Channel. PredictWind allows you to select your forecast location anywhere on the map, and the algorithm then creates forecasts, including marine weather and tides, based on that selected location. The accuracy and relevance to you, the boater, is greatly enhanced compared to the generic forecast information from NOAA. PredictWind offers a free version, which in our opinion is sufficient for the vast majority of recreational boaters. Paid versions are available for the weather geeks (like us) and offshore mariners who need to download weather data via satellite communications.
Final Thoughts on Marine Weather
Keep an eye on the sky! With all of the technology that we have in the palm of our hand, sometimes the best way to know what the weather is doing is to look up and look around.